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Residents pack firehouse to help beloved volunteer

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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Rick Newton at a fundraiser at the East Chatham Fire Company to help pay for his treatment for stage IV lung cancer.
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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Residents pack the East Chatham Fire Company to help raise money for Newton’s cancer treatment.
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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Volunteers staff a table giving out raffle tickets and accepting donations on behalf of East Chatham Fire Company volunteer firefighter Rick Newton.
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    Daniel Zuckerman/Columbia-Greene Media Residents waiting in line to attend the fundraiser Sunday.
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    Rick Newton, left, of East Chatham, pictured with his wife, Irene, is battling Stage IV lung cancer.
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    The Newton family, from left: Sydney, Irene, Graham, Madison and Rick.
April 18, 2018 11:40 am

EAST CHATHAM — Residents gathered at the East Chatham Firehouse on Sunday to raise money for Rick Newton, a contractor and volunteer firefighter being treated for Stage IV lung cancer.

Newton was diagnosed in February and a GoFundMe page, created to help pay for his treatment, raised $16,000 as of Sunday, event organizer Susie Cayler said. Newton’s campaign had raised $18,021 as of Tuesday evening.

Cayler, whose husband is a cousin of Newton’s wife, Irene, recently curated an online auction that raised over $4,000.

“I would say I’ll be happy to make $10,000 here tonight, but I know the support’s just going to keep coming for him,” Cayler said.

The firehouse was filled to capacity in the first hour of Sunday’s fundraiser, Cayler said.

“We’re waiting for people to finish eating and leave so we can get more people in,” she said. “We’re trying to keep people from getting cold.”

Newton, who sat in a section of the firehouse dubbed Rick’s Corner, was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.

“We’re getting these donations and stuff from people I’ve never met,” he said. “It’s absolutely great.”

Newton’s wife created a page for him on CaringBridge, a website dedicated to sharing updates on people’s medical conditions, he said. Newton is receiving immunotherapy and radiation therapy at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany.

“I’m lucky I came into this thing feeling healthy,” he said. “Being a construction guy’s very physically active.”

For anyone facing a similar health situation, Newton recommends staying as positive as possible. He learned this technique early on in his treatment.

“I think it helps,” Newton said. “If you start feeling defeated, or you start feeling like ‘I don’t feel like getting up and moving anymore,’ anything like that, you’re just going to start going backwards.”

Four hundred meals were prepared for Sunday’s event, Cayler said.

“I’m not sure if we’re going to sell out, but it sure looks like that,” she added.

Most people in attendance did not know Newton, but admired him for being a volunteer firefighter in East Chatham, Cayler said. A community walk in Newton’s honor was held Saturday in East Chatham.

“There’s been over 700 donations to his GoFundMe account,” Cayler said. “If that doesn’t tell you that his reach is far and wide, I’m not sure what else would. He just reaches so many people.”

Scott Lent, of Chatham, has known Newton and his family for about 17 years. Lent’s mother used to baby-sit Newton’s daughter Madison, who is now 17.

“I’ve seen all three of their children grow up,” Lent said. “I got to know Rick and Irene over the years, too.”

Newton has an excellent reputation as a contractor, and he and his family are amazing, Lent said.

“They’re just a wonderful family,” he said. “It’s a shame what’s happening and it’s nice to see so many people coming out to support the family.”

Lent, a member of Columbia County American Bikers Aimed Towards Education, asked his fellow members, many of whom don’t know Newton, to attend.

“Those who said, ‘I’ll be there,’ are here,” he said. “We got as much support as we could possibly get. As you can see, this place is packed.”

Stephanie Tanaka, who has a home in Canaan, heard about Newton’s story through a family friend and subsequently saw it online. She, too, had not met Newton, but wanted to show support.

“We’re just community members who feel it’s [the fundraiser] a great thing to support,” Tanaka said. “We want to wish him well.”

Cecilia Stevens, of Nassau, has known the Newton family for about a year and was amazed by the turnout, she said.

A large turnout for Newton isn’t unusual, she said, as many people are looking to support him through his cancer battle.

“He’s an absolutely wonderful person,” Stevens said. “He would give you the shirt off his back.”

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.